‘A 14,000km Journey’
In April this year our five Estonian guests, Riina, Andres, Heiki, Margus and Tonu made the 14,000km journey from Tallin in Estonia to Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, to sail with us for twelve days.
Some may ask why and how did five people from far away Estonia, end up on a sailing trip with us. Their story commences in 2011, when their friend Toomas visited Vanuatu on a friends’ yacht. The yacht was on its world sailing trip, and Toomas, a lawyer by profession and amateur photographer, decided to join the Vanuatu leg of the sail.
He fell in love with Vanuatu and upon his return to Estonia, Toomas suggested to his keen sailor friends that they should visit Vanuatu and discover the place he so fondly recalled as the most memorable of all his cruising trips. Thus it was on his recommendation that Riina and friends set out to find a yacht to charter the islands of Vanuatu.
The five friends have known each other for nearly 20 years, sharing many adventures together, from mountain skiing to sailing the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Now, as ‘responsible adults’, they are all CEOs and most own their companies in Tallin, Estonia, and continue to meet at their local Yacht club during sailing events, celebrations, and of course to plan their next vacation together.
It had been five years since Toomas visited Vanuatu and his fond memories of a magical South Pacific island are beautifully recorded in photographs. When Toomas’ friends decided to come to Vanuatu, Toomas assigned them the mission of delivering a very special gift.
Our Estonian guests’ 12-day adventure with us began with the disruptive arrival of cyclonic wind and rain. It was a very sudden and unexpected turn in the weather as Cyclone Zena hit the region on their first evening.
To everyone’s amazement, the next day and first day onboard ‘Divine Wind’ was pleasant sunshine and calm seas and the heavy rain and wind from the night before had well and truly dissipated.
Our first stop was Tutuba island lagoon anchorage where our perfect hosts Charlie and Anita welcomed us with salu salu and freshly picked pamplemous, pawpaw and sweet green coconut juice.
The next day heralded a superb full-day sail to Pentecost Island, to witness the famous ‘Land Diving’. Arriving at 8pm at Wali Bay, our anchorage on black sand and smooth volcanic rock was very peaceful this first night. We were graced with the glow of nearby Ambrym Island’s twin volcanoes and a magical starry evening sky.
The next morning, our host Luke Fargo and ‘adopted’ family at Londot Village Nagol warmly welcomed us with refreshments before we were led to the spectacular land diving site. It is such a beautiful picturesque setting and so close to the anchorage with only a ten minute walk to the land diving tower.
The youngest land diver on the day was a 10 year old boy, one of Luke’s grandsons. The atmosphere was electric, hearing the waiting dancers chanting, the women and young children singing and whistling, encouraging the divers to climb and prepare for their once-a-year dive.
Our hearts were racing in anticipation. The vines are chosen by the divers themselves and then inspected by the head diver. The precision in the correct length of the chosen vines is critical, as a few centimeters too long could be fatal. The head-first dive into the loose dirt below is a well-calculated mathematical feat as the length, girth and stretch of their chosen vines had to work to give the exact fall. The months of April, May and June are chosen for land diving as the vines are still moist enough to give some stretch and hopefully not snap.
But Pentecost island is a great place to visit not just for the land diving; we had so much fun with the children at Londot, who love to play in the sea with you. Skipper Alan played ‘tag’ with them and the little ones practiced their land diving skills from the top of his shoulders. Later that day, we were spoilt with the delivery to the yacht of green coconuts, oranges and pamplemous by some of our young friends.
One of our guests’ requests was to visit Ambrym Island to do the full day volcano trek and deliver a special package from their friend Toomas. So after our time at Wali Bay on Pentecost, it was off to Ranon in Ambrym, to meet our volcano trekking guide William Adel.
As we arrived in the late afternoon, we made our way ashore to confirm our arrangements for the next day trek to the volcano. William was keen to introduce us to the village of Ranon, the school and the famous wood carvers.
We had a marvelous time listening to William’s stories about the island, and meeting some of the legendary carvers that Ambrym is famous for and our guests acquired some beautiful pieces to take back to Estonia and add to their treasured artifacts collection.
Before arriving in Ambrym our guests shared with us the story of their friend Toomas’ visit to Ambrym back in 2011. He visited Ranon and was privileged to witness the famous Rom dance.
Toomas, being a talented photographer, prepared a very special photo album of his visit to Ambrym. When he discovered his friends were to be sailing to Ambrym he gave them the album in the hope that they might be able to find Chief Sekor and present it to him.
Toomas gave his friend Andres, a member of our sailing group, his old lonely planet guide with a pink highlighted note about Ambrym Island and Chief Sekor and a land line contact for Mayumi Green, long time resident of Vanuatu and owner of adventure tours agency “Wrecks to Rainforest”. Andres told us ‘This is who we need to see and can you please find him for us’.
After some coconut telegraph, we discovered that our host and guide William was Chief Sekor’s relative and so we arranged to meet with Chief Sekor on the yacht the very next morning. He arrived by long boat from Olal village just to the east of our anchorage at Ranon.
Our guests exchanged greetings with Chief Sekor and went on to explain the connection with Toomas and his visit with Chief Sekor in 2011.
Riina and friends then presented the Chief with Toomas’ photo album gift.
His look of surprise and glee to have in his hand a wonderful journey of memories was a sight to behold. His tender touching of the pages and focused perusal of everything on them moved a deep emotion in us all. It was as if he was experiencing a tangible encounter with some of his now deceased family members.
It was indeed a very special moment in time for us but especially for the Chief. Five years had passed since the photos were taken and some of the older members of the custom dance at the time, relatives of Chief Sekor, had since passed away.
It was a wonderful encounter, bringing recent history back into the present in a very real special way. Chief Sekor was one very happy and honored man and our Estonian friends were overjoyed to have been part of this emotional human exchange.
We bade Chief Sekor farewell, and readied ourselves for the next adventure of the day, the full day climb to the mighty volcano.
The climb did not let us down, and once again, after many years living and sailing Vanuatu, we were in awe of the beauty and wholeness of experiences that the archipelago offers.
After an amazing few days in Ambrym, we were ready to do what mariners do, and we set sail, once again, this time for beautiful Asanvari Anchorage on the South Western side of Maewo Island. Our time in Maewo was, as always, magic.
We visited the stunning waterfall with Alex, took a village tour with Erica, and offloaded the many donated supplies of medical equipment to the small clinic and plenty of goodies for the Abanga primary school. Sadly the school and hospital had suffered the blow of cyclone Zena just a week before – the locals described it as ‘the wild wind’.
It ruthlessly made its trek straight over the top of the hospital, taking the roof off, and continued on to the school, also removing the roof off the teachers’ office and library, leaving a trail of ruined books behind. But we were happy to see that the two newly built classrooms we funded recently had survived very well and were now storing the books and equipment that was spared.
Further north along from Asanvari Anchorage is Moon Cave, owned by Chief Jonah and family. Old man Ben, the storyteller, entertained our guests with ancient tales about Moon Cave, how the moon evolved, and the stories behind the old cave drawings. Some of the drawings depict very old sailing ships, believed to be that of Captain Cook.
Back at the village, this very hospitable family prepared a lunch of lap lap, river prawns and fruit salad for us with a very warm welcome sing sing. It was very interesting hearing Chief Jonah’s stories about his involvement with the Jimmy Stevens movement.
Chief Jonah is very motivated to establish ground level cooperatives fostering a community involvement in village agriculture and trade.
His systems are now documented in government and for the past four years he has been writing and tabling this to benefit communities all over Vanuatu.
Our cruise with our Estonian friends was sadly coming to an end. From Maewo, we headed west across to Ambae, anchoring outside the port of Lolawai.
This was a requested stop by our friends in order to purchase more beer, Tusker of course, to celebrate the final sail back to Santo where we began 12 days previously, once again, sailing Vanuatu.
Debra and Alan Profke are the owners of Paradise Lodge and Sailing Adventures, based in the island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. They have been sailing Vanuatu aboard their vessel ‘Divine Wind’ for the past 11 years. For more information, check their site www.sailingvanuatu.com.
Story and photographs by Debra Profke.